The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending that pediatricians include a question about poverty to their wellness exams. Many experts agree, and studies support, that poverty can have a major impact on a child’s heath.
The AAP’s new recommendation states that pediatricians should start assessing children for their poverty status. The screening begins with a single question — asking parents whether they have difficulty in making ends meet at the end of the month.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), there are more than 16 million U.S. children (22% of all children) living below the federal poverty level of $23,550 a year for a family of four.
Growing evidence suggests that the stress of not having safe and secure housing, regular meals and a stable home environment can lead to significant health problems in children.
“We know children living in poverty have more chronic disease, more severe chronic disease, and have poor early brain development which can impact them when they get to school, and lead to poor academic performance,” says Dr. Benard Dreyer, president of the AAP. “Pediatricians deal on a daily basis with the intersection between poverty and health and the well being of children. They understand that they actually aren’t separate.”
The recommendation offers a process to make it easier for doctors who aren’t sure about how to address the issue. The screening doesn’t have to be performed by the doctor, but can be part of a checklist that parents fill out while waiting for their well child visit, or, in larger practices, could be conducted by a quick interview with office staff or social workers.
Pediatricians are also given guidelines to help connect financially struggling families with the proper resources to help them find local housing bureaus, food pantries and even job listings. The hope, says Dreyer, is to help the 50% of families who currently qualify for additional support but aren’t getting it to access the resources they need. “Many pediatricians are already doing this, and helping families who have been evicted or connecting them to local food pantries. What we want to do is to give them more resources,” says Dreyer.
Children in deep poverty, whose family income is below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, do even worse on health and development indicators than children in poverty according to a study released by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. The study compared the wellbeing of children in deep poverty to children that are poor, but not in deep poverty, and to non-poor children.
The worse off the family’s financial situation is, the more likely a child will suffer from health and developmental problems such as stress, anxiety, obesity and elevated lead levels.
With the recommendation, the academy is also urging state and federal lawmakers to expand existing housing, food and health programs. “In order for kids to thrive, we recognize that the community, family and social aspects of their existence may be even more important than many of the medical things they may be dealing with,” says Dreyer. “Poverty is the most serious non communicable disease that children have — and it’s the most common.”
The new recommendations were published in the journal Pediatrics.
Story Source: Alice Park, http://time.com/4251653/pediatricians-should-screen-all-children-for-poverty/